Friday, September 18, 2009

Hugh Cornwell brought his Hooverdam tour to Toronto's Mod Club on Thursday night, and the man proved he's not mellowing with age.
The show lasted 85 minutes and by and large featured a mix of material from last year's Hooverdam (which I'd rate as a very solid 7/10) and vintage material from The Stranglers, the brilliant art-punk band Cornwell formed 35 years ago and left after 1990's 10.
Cornwell was accompanied by Chris Bell, an accomplished drummer who previously played with the Thompson Twins and Gene Loves Jezebel, and rock-solid bassist Christine "Chaz" Campbell. They both played on Hooverdam and have been working with Cornwell — a very underrated guitarist, intriguing songwriter, precise singer and an unfailingly polite man when you talk to him — for a few years. Their ease with each other is evident on stage and creates a power trio in every sense of the term.
Dave Greenfield's keyboard flourishes, which made The Stranglers sound so distinctive compared to many of their early contemporaries, are definitely missed — particularly on "Duchess." But Cornwell's solos sometimes made you forget about them and got you thinking about old songs in whole new ways. The bass-heavy "Golden Brown" was an excellent example of that on Thursday.
I was disappointed in a crowd of what I estimated to be about 125 people, but there was stiff competition with U2 and Marilyn Manson having gigs around town and Toronto still caught up film festival fever. But what Cornwell lacked in spectacle, which those other options were full of, he made up for with songs — and that will almost always take precedence for me.
The Hooverdam material included the powerful "Going To The City" and the ominous-sounding "Delightful Nightmare" as well as "Rain On The River," "Within You Or Without You," "Please Don't Put Me On A Slow Boat To Trowbridge" and, in the encore, the excellent "Beat Of My Heart."
But it was the Stranglers material that drew the biggest responses, and there's no arguing that it deserved them. The main set featured "Nice N' Sleazy" (which featured a great bass line from Campbell), "Walk On By" (which was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, but covered by The Stranglers), the aforementioned "Duchess" and "Golden Brown," and "No More Heroes," which  may have elicited the most dancing of the night.
After a brief trip to the dressing room, Cornwell returned and addressed someone in the front who'd been taking pictures earlier.
"I don't mind photos, but no flash," he said. "You should be outside of a girl's primary school."
Appropriately, after that comment, he launched into "Peaches." It somehow sounds creepier coming from a 60-year-old than it did when it was released when Cornwell was 28, but it's still a great song.
The amazing "Hanging Around" again featured a blistering Cornwell guitar solo in place of the keyboards from the original version. It got people dancing again and set the stage for an extended "Down In The Sewer." 
Cornwell had earlier invited me to join him for drinks at a neighbouring Italian restaurant, but I decided that by the time he left the stage and graciously signed autographs at the merch table that I was probably better advised to go home and make a late dinner. If I hadn't made the opposite decision when put in a very similar situation with a member of a different band just four nights earlier, I almost would have thought I was finally maturing.

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